In 1973, Sam Springer was said to have been topping his 36' boats in wood. We were told Pentargon was re-topped in steel at some point in the 90s and that the existing windows were cut in and older windows shut up! Looks like a steel top from a longer boat (and it must have been a Springer) was dropped on an older hull. Hence the unique lines and the tiny forward deck or so the story goes.
However, during an archeological dig to remove almost a ton of unwanted concrete slabs from the bilges, we were unable to unearth any evidence that the original boat had EVER been tampered with. For the moment it looks as though Sam worked his magic and produced the ultimate Springer: a narrowboat that can go to sea in total safety. She's been tested in Class C waters (waves over a meter) and has behaved perfectly and in mid 2007 the freeboard is being raised to 750mm to comply with class D inland waters (as defined by the MCA)
Category C: tidal rivers, estuaries and large, deep lakes and lochs where the significant wave height couldnít be expected to be more than 1.2 metres at any time.
Category D: tidal rivers and estuaries where the significant wave height couldnít be expected to be more than 2 metres at any time..
Pentargon is appropriately a much larger boat inside than apparent from the shore. With over 6'3" head-room, her discrete front-cabin (with ensuite bathroom, Hampshire heater, wardrobes and storage) can be isolated from the aft cabin (12'long) where the mess and galley reside along with a spare bunk and considerable storage space. Pentargon is built for two in erm luxury but can comfortably accommodate four, when the diner fold down bunk is called on.
She also has some 7' of cruiser stern with a waterproof canvas cover. With air-beds and sleeping bags out on deck and under canvas it might be fun for up to four young hardies? The bad news is that on-board there are only two of anything: cutlery, ware, table space, seats, even steam cookers.
During 2013, Pentargon's front cabin was extensively modified to fit a 4'6" memory foam on a slatted [IKEA} base,
raising the [double] up close to the gunnel line, permitting a view out
the front window. An auxilary bunk was fitted below and athwart for Pogue Muhone's
personal use in exceptionally cold weather. The Hampshire was tweaked,
modified and repositioned to provide warm air heating to the space under
the bed. Pogue found that the Hampshire was heating the ceiling
exceptionally well and the soles plates not very much and over time came
up with an ingenious heat trap made of marble slabs cut by a monumental
mason in East London.
Although I first saw Pentargon back in September 2011, it had been looking for me (or vice-versa) since late 2010 although this had not been noticed at the time. Since coming on t'cut, I'd been told that if you have enough patience to just keep moving along, you will not have to find your boat: it will find you. This was my experience. It's taken a while to get to where we are today. One COULD obviously have gone the Appalling Duck route, paying large wongas for what one could see above the water line and, (although you don't yet know it), what one couldn't see below said water line. One could buy a money-sewer into which one could pour all one's hard-earned and one would still not have a sorted boat.
You can travel the straight, tedious and narrow path,
doggedly paring away at the brokerage system,
and eventually get just what you want.
I'm of the latter persuasion.
You only get to drive the boat you might want to buy from a broker if you're very lucky.
If they're having a good day, they may show you around. or not. They might wave in the general direction of whatever will make the most wonga for them. Sometimes they'll give you the key to have a prowl around on and inside an actual boat. If you're serious about buying, you can't just call in a surveyor to give what you like a right going-over (as you would with a house or a car or a painting).
Buying a boat is done on the same contract as would be used to purchase the royal yacht Brittania (or the Titanic come to think of it). 'Full' survey costs around £500 + the dreaded VAT (£600). AND you have to pay to have the boat hauled out which will knock you back another few hundred squid.
Oh! If you are looking at a SPRINGER, which I was, the hauler out may cream you for an excess on the basis that he has to user a special cradle to haul it out because it has not got a flat bottom. Load of bollox but you don't know that at the time so you pay up. There's a really serious catch though for first-time buyers or anytime buyers doing the business through a broker.
You can only have a boat surveyed
after you've made an offer in writing on a legally watertight contract
and after your offer has been accepted by the seller.
Sounds daft, but that is how the system works.
You have to lay down a [10%] deposit and commit to purchase: "subject to survey" before the surveyor is allowed near the boat. This is a good time to underline that a particular broker may have "a mutual arangement' with a particular surveyor. I know at least one broker/marina which requires the boat to be surveyed out in the cut if you plump for your own surveyor who has no 'agreement' with the broker/marina.
Watch it out there. It's lunatic soup. And there are sharks in and around the soup. There's some VERY interesting small print in the "legally watertight contract" also:
like, if the survey shows up multiple small defects which can be 'fixed' within a certain budget the fixing has to be done by the SELLER or his AGENT but at the BUYER'S expense.
Now guess who that "agent" might be. (for 'broker' read 'agent' for a moment)
This is where some right shite work gets done.
The broker has you over a barrel and knows it so he gets in a baboon, pays peanuts, gets some monkey work done, hoovers up the margin, nooses the surveyor into the deal and muggins ends up paying x% ON TOP of the purchase price for a boat which enters your life ropey.
This was NOT applicable to my purchase I hasten to add but appears to be what happened to Pentargon when the last owner was purchasing it in 2002/3.
Buyers come in all shapes and sizes but rarely will they have a background in sheet metal fabrication, gas installation, plumbing, AC/DC electricity, carpentry, glazing, engines, gearboxes, weed-hatches, sign-writing, galvanic corrosion and the best price for a length of string. Fortunately for Pentargon in 2011, she was under the gimlet eye of someone with all those skills and much more, but who engagingly looks, acts and talks like a cretin. It's part of my charm. Unfortunately for the last owner, his investment was about to float down Shit Creek Without a Paddle.
He's the only one I really felt sorry for.
If a boat fails survey under the terms of the legally binding contract (because the faults cannot be put right for x% of the agreed price) the buyer can pull out of the deal and walk away. But all you get back is your deposit. You have to be prepared to 'lose' up to £1000 (for the survey and slipping) and have nothing to show for it. Sometimes this can be the right way to go and the right thing to do especially if BIG WONGAS are involved. For me the wongas I was laying out were BIG wongas: like my whole life-savings.
There's an interesting side issue to a failed survey.
Sometimes, in doing the test, the surveyor might blow a hole through the hull under the waterline with his little hammer. Under these circumstances, the boat would be instantly failed and could not be put back in the water until repaired. The boat is, of that moment, both unsaleable and unsailable as the hole so hammered might cause the boat to sink in the water.
This sort of clause matters with the Titanic, which went down in 11,000' of water but it also applies to canal boats which in t'cut might not have 2" of free water under them at times. (Pentargon has been aground outside Badsey's cafe at Hillmorton and it's draught is 24").
This little is gem is entered into the discussion
for the advantage of readers who might be
SELLING a boat which gets surveyed.
If the survey is not quite ok and a weak spot in the hull or a dodgy engine problem is found which can be fixed for less than 5% of the agreed purchase price (on £12,000 that would be £600) you're obliged by contract to ask the seller to fix it at YOUR expense and have the surveyor rubber-stamp the fix. See notes above about connivance between interested parties and be assured the seller is rarely party to these shenanigans. You are also legally obliged to go through with the purchase without any legal or financial recourse and I can guarantee from observation, research and talking to others who got thus burned that you'll have bought a pup and a dog in one and the same transaction.
So this is how the term "Think Fast Buy Slow" can be applied
Once the boat it yours, so are the ALL the inherited problems.
It is entirely justifiable to
Make Haste Very slowly.
The 'normal' way a surveyor proceeds is to go over the boat, in the water and then out. Once the inside is done and the engine tested afloat, the surveyor gets the yard to haul it out to check the "wetted hull". Canny purchasers might be able to use this haul-out to, at least, steam-clean the bottom, check the anodes and examine the blacking, thus securing maybe four years happy boating before it has to be hauled out again. Be aware however that you will be blacking someone else's boat and blacking adds £200/300 to the rising bill and you still don't own the boat. But life is a game and a series of challenges. Most surveyers are BSS certified and some/most? will include a Safety Certificate within the cost of a full survey. In Pentargon's case her 4yr BSS was due to run out in April 2012 so a bonus was coming with the survey (provided it passed) because the survey was scheduled for mid Jan and the BSS could be forwarded to it's expiry date (as far as I know!) In the event it did not apply as Pentargon's survey was eventually completed in MAY.
The buying of the boat is absolutely outside credit card territory. Brokers have separate accounts for sales, moorings, repairs, and fettlin'n' fuellin'. So your money may have to be moved to a current account to write the balance by cheque. Provided of course your potential purchase has passed it's survey. To cut down on pissin abart, you might consider getting a banker's draft to pay for the boat as that works like cash and the small cost might speed things up muchsome.
I had thought that 36' Springers were originally built with a "5mm" steel hull. As of Friday 13th Jan 2012, I am obliged to Ray Smith at farcebooks "JustCanals" forum for the following:
"Most of the early 1972/5 Springers ... were plated in 3/16" [plate]. Some were done in 1/8th plate for the cruiser style V hull without fore-deck. I had one of these new in 1975."
Pentargon has a cruiser stern and [almost] no fore-deck. She is, however, plated in 3/16"! I had the sole plates (landlubbers say floorboards!) lifted during 2012 to remove almost a metric tonne of concrete paving slabs as part of a re-ballasting exercise.
The (then current) owners had decided to do a '20' year survey about 2002, based on [erroneous] information that the boat was a late '70s build. Being 'advised' during that 'survey' that the wetted hull was 'iffy', they decided to have Pentargon 'bottomed' rather than patching bits on here and there'.
This tidbit, gleaned during initial enquiries, became the major factor in my decision to proceed. The yard where the work was done was deemed to have a 'reliable' reputation and if I was ready for libel it would now be named. What they did was 'shoddy' 'slipshod' 'opportunistic' crap and it would be reasonable to describe the principals as 'downright rogues'. My lips are sealed as to who buggered up a simple job in the most stupid way possible.
WHAT INSURERS REQUIRE
For comprehensive insurance, a narrowboat needs to show a minimum skin thickness of 4mm. all over the 'wetted surface' and this is to be demonstrated on an ultrasound device which has been calibrated and certified and used by a tester certified to use the said device. A single pitmark down 1mm, if found, must be brought up to show 4mm+ on ultrasound. This is why you find nominal sheet thicknesses on boats eg 8/6/5, with the 8mm being the bottom, 6mm being the sides and 5mm above gunnel height. It is simply insurance against subsequent pitting, caused by galvanic corrosion and owner stupidity. (The two go hand-in-hand.
In the case of Springers numbers like 5/4/3 are more likely. Part of Sam Springer's secret of mass production was to minimise steel and then add ballast usually concrete slabs to bring down the C of G. Sam Springer's original gasworks sheets (that story, by the way, is total bollox but never let the truth get in the way of a good story) were less than 5mm because Sam used imperial measures back in 1973. Pentargon's original bottom would have been less than 5mm from new because Sam's 3/16" is 4.75 in metric. The good news was that 3/16" was a real figure not a nominal one.
Come 2002 and the numbers coming from the surveyor for Pentargon's wetted hull were showing possible and slight weaknesses in the 4mm defence. There was no evidence that the 4mm minimum had been breached, just that they said they found readings close to 4mm. The then owner, a careful and trusting soul, decided that patching was asking for trouble and, having had some experience of sheet steel fabrication myself, I'd have agreed. But he really should have done nothing.
Sam Springer's 3/16" steel sheet is well over the odds on Pentargon to this day and 11 years later. In the surveying methodology, ultrasound picks up only the outside layer of steel. It 'ignores' what may be underneath. The previous owner fell for the most basic bit of roguery on t'cut: doing work that was patently not needed and I'll bet he got charged an arm and at least one leg for it.
WHAT OWNERS EXPECT
Like any decent gentleman, he left the work in the hands of a 'reputable' yard to do the "necessary"!! You don't need a degree in rocket science to figure that sheeting in 4mm sheet would not make much sense, because you would be starting off at the minimum acceptable. However, if you were then told that 4mm is 'nominal' and understood that to mean 'in name only' " you'd be right. Industry standards allow an almost unbelievable 10% margin on Reality. Imagine going out to buy a litre of milk and 'legally' receiving 900mls for your money?
With deadly accurate rollers, 4mm sheets can and do exude down to 3.71mm. That Indian multi-billionaire steel-man wot put up that funny metal tower in Stratford for the Olympics got rich not on 3.71mm he actually sold but on the non-existent 0.29mm that he did NOT sell but got paid for. 3.7 reality is priced at 4mm nominal. You won't find that kind of shite going on at the Waitrose cheese counter. They weigh the cheese and only then put it in the bag. If only marinas, canal-side fabricators and canal dry-docks worked the same way.
WHAT HAPPENS IN REALITY?
But what about a yard that patches the bottom of Pentargon with 4mm nominal, albeit with large patches that stretch as far as the protruding stringers? That's what was found at my survey. Nothing else had mattered to me other than that the hull under water be sound. Nothing else would be questioned. Ultrasound had to return the numbers, impossible in the circumstances, and by definition, as it transpired. It's the way the test works.
Even though the surveyor and the purchaser both knew there was good steel under the 'patches' we both knew that the surveyor (who is one of the best in the country) had to work to the standards imposed by his licence.
I invoked the get-out clause and got-out.
Down at least £1000 and no purchase to show;
not even a round turn and two half hitches.